Someone had a difficult time getting this film out of its chrysalis. There's a cautionary tale about possessiveness and jealousy worth telling here, but it's marred by flat performances and noncommittal filmmaking.
Director Mary Harron returns to the themes of identity and subjective reality she handled far more succinctly in American Psycho, this time with the story of a teenage girl in an all-girl boarding school who thinks one of her new classmates is a vampire.
Rebecca (Sarah Bolger of the tragically shelved Locke & Key pilot) is still coming to terms with the suicide of her poet father, but she buries her anguish and abandonment issues beneath her friendship with Lucie (Sarah Gadon, A Dangerous Method).
Reunited in a hail of squeeing after the summer, Rebecca decides to keep a diary this year at school, providing a handy narrative device to record the proceedings firmly within her perspective. A literature class with a hunky new teacher focused on gothic vampire classic Carmilla gives Rebecca fuel for paranoia and suspicion of new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus), who exudes an influence over Lucie.
Midnight walks in bare feet, never being seen eating, an aversion to water and gristly accidents happening to people who cross Ernessa lend credibility to Rebecca's growing certainty, but there's never any direct evidence to strongly suggest more than coincidence and misfortune at play.
Alienating her friends and concerning teachers with her increasingly aggressive insistence that Ernessa holds Lucie in a life-draining thrall, Rebecca lets her internal world consume her reality. Or is she really at odds with a vampire?
Mary Harron takes great pains to make this as ambiguous as possible. Just when a viewpoint appears to be crystallizing, it's refuted by another image so that in the end, it's entirely up to the viewer to decide whether or not, or to what degree, we're experiencing the story through a deluded perspective.
Of the cast, only Lily Cole and Scott Speedman come across as more than amateurs in a particularly grim episode of Sweet Valley High. Speedman has enough experience to not be a total, lecherous tool and Cole simply has the presence and unique beauty to be convincing in her role, even if she does look a bit odd with dark hair and eyebrows that look like they could win a fencing match against Peter Gallagher's.
With a stronger cast and more confident direction, The Moth Diaries could have been an interesting portrayal of the psychology of possessiveness, instead of the vague and desultory waste of time and effort it turned out as. (Alliance)